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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Historian Gareth Porter on latest plan to win in Afghanistan...

Historian Gareth Porter has written a piece on the latest administration ideas about pacifying Afghanistan:
Plan to Split Taliban Lures Obama Deeper Into War.

The plan to "buy off" supposedly "reconcilable" Taliban fighters and thus split the insurgency projects an image onto the situation in Afghanistan that is contrary to the assessment of Afghanistan experts about the true motivation for the hostility toward coalition personnel. It is a repeat of numerous cases under the Bush administration of ignoring the real cultural context on the ground. It fails to recognize real fault lines among the insurgents - for example between the Arabs associated with al Qaeda and the local Taliban.

In the accompanying radio interview at http://antiwar.com/radio/, Porter assents to antiwar.com's radio host Scott Horton's charicature of the Afghans as a warlike people who will always fight, among themselves and against foreigners, implying either a Hobbesean state of nature or a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland view of the "noble savage". The two say that this image of eternal war represents the consensus of experts - it is in their ancient culture. As the conversation moves on, and as the article presents it, however, a more subtle view emerges: The Afghanistan insurgency is rooted in hostility to foreign occupation troops based primarily on desire for revenge for violence inflicted by the occupation forces on members of their groups. That view would seem to fit in better with the history of the clan/tribe-based society there, where sub-national loyalties and honor are so highly valued. Against that background, the idea of buying off parts of the insurgency seems absurd.

Afghani conceptions of honor, reconciliation and compensation do allow for monetary reimbursement for killing, however. So a scenario where the coalition buys off insurgents is not total fantasy. But each case would have to be personally negotiated by men (sic) of recognized authority and accompanied by ritualized actions that would be difficult to reconcile with military or bureaucratic traditions in the west. And any such action would leave the issue of the presence of foreign troops and the anger generated by foreing occupation as such unaddressed.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama Rattles More Sabers in Afghanistan and Iran

The bad news just keeps coming from Obama. In the last few days, NATO (U.S.) General John Craddock ordered his troops to widen the already futile Afghan War and kill all drug dealers (apparently on sight).

Now, we are told that an attack on Iran is "still on the table." When will progressives put aside their illusions about Obama?

An excellent move for HAW would be to demand that Obama stop the threats against Iran and publicly denounce Craddock's statements or, better yet, fire him.

Antiwar Americans were instrumental in getting Obama the nomination and electing him. They need to start demanding some reciprocity.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's War: Longer than Vietnam?

"Change" and "hope" were the mantras that got Obama's elected but he appears to offering us the same old gruel: perpetual war and futile Wilsonianism in foreign policy. Richard Holbrooke, Obama's envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, predicts that the Afghan War (now in its eighth year) will outlast the longest war in American history (Vietnam, fourteen years) .

There are some problems that can't be solved by shouting "yes we can," even if backed up with more U.S. blood and treasure, and this is one of them.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eric Margolis on Gaza and Obama's Planned Afghan Escalation

In this audio of an interview, the ever informative and entertaining columnist, Eric Margolis, lays out the implications of the bloodshed in Gaza and the proposed new surge in Afghanistan..

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

HAW Member Andrew Bacevich Interviewed

Here is an audio of Scott Horton's interview of Andrew Bacevich, a member of Historians Against the War. Bacevich is professor of international relations at Boston University and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. According to the description of the interview, he "discusses the negative net returns of U.S. expansionism from the 1960s onward, the establishment of a permanent national security apparatus that made non-interventionism impossible, the Carter Doctrine’s faulty premises and continued influence in Middle East policies and the current Pentagon reassessment of U.S. military limitations that may inhibit a troop surge in Afghanistan and force a more realistic political solution."

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Richard Milhous McCain Debates John Fitzgerald Obama

In the debate, I kept expecting Obama to echo Kennedy's warning from 1960 in his debate with Nixon about the need to close the non-existent "missile gap." While he was more restrained than McCain on Iraq and Iran, his differences on other foreign policy issues were generally paper thin.

Like McCain, Obama endorsed the General Jack Ripperesque move of admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO (thus potentially obligating the U.S. to escalate to World War III in case of a border dispute with Russia) and a "surge" of more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. Obama's statements on U.S. military incursions into Pakistan made McCain look almost cool-headed by comparison (no small accomplishment).

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Afghan woman on the history of her country and the dishonest and failed occupation...

On Friday night I attended a talk by an Afghan woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). The speaker had been invited to speak in Tübingen by the German "Die Linke" (The Left) party in preparation for a demonstration in Stuttgart on Saturday against the presence of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan. The mandate for the Bundeswehr is going to be debated shortly in the German parliament. The mandate is unpopular among the German population, but enjoys majority support in the parliament.

The speaker, who went by the name of Zoya, told about RAWA's social and political work and the difficult situation in Afghanistan today. Although she said her story was not about history, she made several points that are important from an historical perspective for understanding the current situation there. They are things which are totally under-reported in the western media and, so her argument, lead to a grave misunderstanding of the situation there.

She pointed that from 1992 to 1996, fundamentalists who were hardly better than the Taliban had ruled Afghanistan. They supressed women, raped and murdered and ran a drug economy. Then, from 1996 to 2001, a rival group of very similar fundamentalists, the Taliban, took power and continued the policies. During this period, the people of Afghanistan were crying out for help from the international community. But only after 911 were their calls heard, only after 911 did the world care about terrorism in Afghanistan.

The U.S. invaded the country much differently than the Soviet Union had more than 20 years before. They came with beautiful words on their lips: liberation, democracy. So, according to Zoya, the Afghanis did not resist and threw open their country's gates. But then, disillusionment set in. The U.S. had allied itself with the very fundamentalist forces who had pillaged the country before the Taliban, the various groups of the "Northern Alliance." The result, she argued, has been a catastrophe.

What the western media does not report is that the vast majority of the government (executive, legislative and judiciary) under Karzei is made up of criminals, fundamentalists, warlords and drug lords who continue their reign of terror - but now under the nose of the occupation. She recounted specific stories of high-placed officials, including members of parliament and high-ranking members of the police forces, who are widely known to have raped 12 and 13 year old girls.

She put special emphasis on the situation of women in Afghanistan. Not only are they suffering along with the general population - the hardships of hunger and general terror. But they suffer as women. In the west, we think the women have been "liberated" because they are no longer required by law to wear the burkha. Zoya reported that that is only the law. Women have to keep wearing it if they do not want to be beaten and raped. And wearning the burkha is only a symbol. A normal life is still not possible.

She told about the catastrophic infrastructure, despite the billions of dollars being spent on the country. The Minister of Electricity is commonly referred to as the "Candle Minister." The money is all going into the pockets of the corrupt elite. There is little to no freedom of speech, with critical voices subject to arrest and execution. The occupation forces are also actively doing more harm than good by killing innocent people. She said that if the U.S. was serious about ending terror in Afghanistan, they would get the terrorists. It would take one day to arrest the entire government and send them to the Hague. Since they do not do this, and do not support the truly democratic forces in Afghanistan, she can only conclude that there are other reasons for the occcupation and the so-called Global War on Terror is only an excuse to maintain a strategic presence in the region.

Her solution? End the occupation. The small, weak democratic organizations and individuals see themselves faced on all sides by enemies: the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, the Karzei government, war lords, drug lords - and the 26 occupying powers. If the latter would leave, that would mean fewer enemies to deal with. When asked by a member of the audience if that wouldn't mean that the fundamentalist forces could clamp down all the more, she responded that things cannot get any worse. She said they would rather die a swift death than the protracted death in the current situation. But she also noted that there is hope. Even without the occupation, the outside world could help support the democratic forces in the country.

Asked about ethnic divisions within the country and the danger of a civil war, she reiterated that after 30 years of terror, there is a real danger of a civil war, but it would not be worse than the current situation. The ethnic divisions were real out in the countryside where the illiterate population was under the thumb of the fundamentalists who seek to divide the population for their own interests. But they can be overcome if the circumstances could be changed. There is a real sense of national, Afghan solidarity when it has a chance to express itself.

She ended by telling a little bit about RAWA's social work and emphasizing Afghani responsibility for the fate of her country. It is the responsibility of the Afghanis to fight for their own freedom. The international community can best help by ending the occupation and cutting off all support for the radical, fundamentalist forces currently terrorizing her people.

The local TV station here in Tübingen, Germany, covered the event. Zoya's face was not shown, to keep her from being murdered upon her return home in a number of weeks. It is hard to imagine this young woman with good English, western dress and demeanor will soon be back in Afghanistan, wearing a burkha, blending into the scenery, to continue her underground struggle.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The McCain/Obama Echo Chamber (Part 2)

Both Obama and McCain almost simultaneously endorsed an expanded military. Now, both candidates have echoed each other again (see here and here) in calling for a surge of U.S. troops into the worsening Afghan quagmire.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama's Janus-Faced Foreign Policy

Obama lays out his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan in an op-ed for The New York Times. It reveals on full display a proposed foreign policy of confusion and contradiction.

With the notable exception of calling for a "residual force" to fight Al Qaeda and train troops, Obama sensibly argues that the best policy is to wean the Iraqis from dependence on the United States and create "a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country."

Not recognizing the contradiction, however, Obama proposes the exact opposite solution for Afghanistan. Instead of letting the Afghans take "responsiblity for the security of their country," he wants to make them even more dependent on American welfare:

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.

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